Why cricket needs a strong West Indies team

Last Updated: Mon, Oct 08, 2012 06:48 hrs

"Happy days are here again" could well be the refrain around the cricketing world. West Indies’ triumph in the T20 World Cup is good news not only for the Caribbean islands but wherever cricket is played. For one thing, West Indies over the years, while possessing some of the most colourful and entertaining cricketers, have also produced all time greats.

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Secondly they have been languishing somewhere near the bottom for so long that their ascendency is welcome news. The cricketing world can always do with an attractive and strong West Indian side. Over the years they have provided some of the most memorable moments in the history of the game and it is to be hoped that the victory in Sri Lanka will herald a revival in Caribbean cricket.

As cricket followers we have all been familiar with the greatness of West Indian cricket. Through the fifties and sixties they showed glimpses of what was to follow thanks to the exploits of the three Ws, Everton Weekes, Frank Worrell and Clyde Walcott, Gary Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Lance Gibbs, Wesley Hall, Sonny Ramadhin, Alf Valentine and Clive Lloyd.

But it was their remarkable reign at the top from 1980 to 1995 that marked them out as arguably the finest cricket team of all time. This was the time when they had an array of stroke playing batsmen, a fearsome quartet of pace bowlers, acrobatic fieldsmen and a swagger in their attitude that could intimidate their opponents.

They ran roughshod over every team, winning matches with uncanny ease, finishing them with a day or two to spare, quite often emerging victorious by an innings and plenty. They set all sorts of world records, the most notable being eleven successive victories and remaining unbeaten for 27 Tests besides notching up two consecutive 5-0 'blackwashes' of England.

Yes, the West Indies dominated the game like no other team before it. Older players retired but the replacements were just as effective, brilliant or dynamic and the reign at the top continued. There seemed no end to their dominance but in 1995 the impregnable "wall" finally crashed.

Touring the Caribbean that year, the Australians won the four-match series 2-1 and after 15 years and 29 series, world cricket’s longest lasting dynasty was overthrown. The previous occasion that the West Indies lost a series was in March 1980 when they had gone down narrowly in New Zealand. Since then they had won 20 and drawn nine (including two one-off Tests).

Australia took over as the leading team and reigned till a few years ago. But while every other team had their moments in the sun, for the West Indies the scenario was dark and gloomy. To see them being roundly thrashed repeatedly was a pitiable sight particularly to those who remembered the all-conquering team that pervaded the cricketing world for a decade and a half.

What a marvelous sight they presented for the spectators and the TV audience – if not the opponents! For starters there was this batting line-up that started with Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes and continued with the likes of Vivian Richards, Clive Lloyd, Lawrence Rowe, Alvin Kallicharran, Richie Richardson, Larry Gomes, Carl Hooper and Brian Lara.

Behind the stumps were brilliant wicket keepers like Deryck Murray and Jeff Dujon. And as for the awesome fast bowlers, they could take the pick from Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Colin Croft, Malcolm Marshall, Ian Bishop, Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose.

Match after match, series after series, year after year, the West Indies simply mowed down all opposition and things were becoming predictable, even monotonous. But if their rise and the manner in which they stayed at the top for so long had been quite spectacular their decline was so steep it was pathetic. In particular at the turn of the century and in the new millennium the slide was marked.

Opponents toyed with them just as they had toyed with teams during the golden period. They were beaten at home and away, suffered the kind of heavy defeats they used to hand out to opponents and had to endure clean sweep reverses (3-0 at the hands of Sri Lanka and Australia, 4-0 to England, 5-0 to Australia and South Africa).

The batting with the exception of the gallant Brian Lara was abject surrender though Chris Gayle, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan did provide the odd sparkle while the fast bowlers were a pale shadow of their great predecessors. The fielding and catching which had been energetic and athletic hurtled to sub-standard levels.

Whatever the reasons for the decline – and every expert in the Caribbean seemed to have his own pet theory - it could not be good for world cricket if the West Indies who were the game’s superpower for so long should come down to a level where they were being mocked at.

The irrepressible Geoff Boycott put it in his own inimitable manner when West Indies went down repeatedly to England in the new millennium. "If my mum was alive she could captain England to play West Indies. Hopeless aren’t they?" It wasn’t nice to hear such things said about once colourful cricketers who brought such joy and excitement to the game with their dynamic qualities.

Even in limited overs cricket which they had dominated in the early days of the 70s and for which they always seemed to have the right players, West Indies were no longer a force to be reckoned with over the last two decades, their lone moment in the sun being the triumph in the 2004 Champions Trophy in England.

The victory just notched up is far more significant given the fact that it was a tougher field, the format was the unpredictable T20 and it was a World Cup. Somehow one senses that their rise to No 2 in the latest ICC T20 rankings is symbolic of an upsurge in their fortunes.

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